Defining 'internationalisation at home'

In recent discussions on the internationalisation of higher education, the constant introduction of new terms and definitions has rightly been criticised. Although we are fully aware of this, we consider that the importance of clarifying the concept of 'internationalisation at home' overrides the urge to limit the number of definitions. We have recently proposed a new definition of internationalisation at home.

Although defining it does not guarantee its implementation, since there are fundamental challenges to be overcome, it is hoped that this redefinition might bring implementation a step closer.

Growing attention

The concept of internationalisation at home plays a useful role in certain contexts, particularly where the emphasis of internationalisation efforts has traditionally been on mobility.

It is increasingly clear that mobility can bring substantial benefits to participants, and countries around the world are seeking to increase the number of students taking part. However, it is also recognised that mobile students will continue to make up a relatively small proportion of the student body, and internationalisation at home is a convenient term to designate internationalisation activity aimed at the whole student body.

Now that internationalisation at home has, since 2013, been included in the European Commission’s education policy – European higher education in the world – it might even be said that it has gained momentum and has moved to the centre of the debate on the internationalisation of higher education.

Internationalisation at home is now also on its way to becoming an item in the educational policies of European Union member states; for example, the two Nuffic studies published in 2014 in the Netherlands were intended to form the basis for a Dutch national policy for internationalisation at home.

It seems that, for once, policy is following practice. In the Netherlands, 76% of universities have already included internationalisation at home curricula in their policies. For Europe, the percentage is somewhat lower at 56%, as we learn from the recently published European Association for International Education, or EAIE Barometer.

It is not simply about policymaking, however. Most European universities claim to be undertaking activities to implement internationalisation at home. According to Trends 2015, the recently published survey of the European University Association, 64% of European higher education institutions are doing so.

Conceptual fog

With the attention on internationalisation at home increasing, it is all the more important that the concept is understood clearly, and shared understanding is not simply assumed.

The original definition of internationalisation at home, dating from 2001, was not very helpful: “Any internationally related activity with the exception of outbound student and staff mobility.”

The confusion centres around the overlap between internationalisation at home and internationalisation of the curriculum as it has developed as a concept, particularly in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Internationalisation of the curriculum, on the other hand, refers to dimensions of the curriculum regardless of where it is delivered. In this sense it may include mobility for the students that choose that option, or it can refer to curriculum for transnational or other forms of cross-border education.

The confusion over the two terms is also reflected in surveys. The EAIE Barometer, for instance, includes both concepts as items in the same question on content of internationalisation policies.

Other implementation issues

Even when the conceptual fog lifts, a big challenge remains: supporting academics so that they can capture intended internationalisation in learning outcomes, plan assessment and design learning environments that enable students to achieve intended learning outcomes.

This is the system that underlies the European quality label CeQuInt, established in 2015. The articulation of these outcomes is a crucial task.

When we see in the Fourth Global Survey of the International Association of Universities that the internationalisation of learning outcomes is booming, in fact this is mostly at the institutional level.

At that level, it is easy to pay lip service to introducing outcomes for international and intercultural learning since that is not where they are assessed. The real challenge is to contextualise internationalised learning outcomes in individual programmes of study and support academics in crafting outcomes and assessment. For this, they need support from both educational and internationalisation experts.

The new definition hopefully contributes to reaching a common understanding of internationalisation at home, which may assist in this challenging task. The new definition – coined by us and proposed in a 2015 publication, The European Higher Education Area: Between critical reflections and future policies, states: “Internationalisation at Home is the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum for all students, within domestic learning environments.”

The definition stresses inclusion of international and intercultural aspects into curricula in a purposeful way. This implies that adding or infusing random internationalised elements or electives would be insufficient to internationalise a programme.

It also emphasises the role of internationalisation for all students in all programmes and does not simply rely on mobility to offer international and intercultural perspectives.

In talking of “domestic learning environments”, the definition makes it clear that these may extend beyond the home campus and the formal learning context to include other intercultural and-or international learning opportunities within the local community.

These may include working with local cultural, ethnic or religious groups; using a tandem learning system or other means to engage domestic with international students; or exploiting diversity within the classroom.

It also includes technology-enabled or virtual mobility, such as through Collaborative Online International Learning.

It must be highlighted once more that these contexts may be seen as learning environments, but it is the articulation and assessment of internationalised learning outcomes within the specific context of a discipline that will allow such environments to be used as a means of achieving meaningful international and intercultural learning.

Jos Beelen is chair of Expert Community Internationalisation at Home, the European Association for International Education, The Netherlands. E-mail: Elspeth Jones is emerita professor of the internationalisation of higher education at Leeds Beckett University, UK, and honorary visiting fellow at the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy. E-mail: This article was first published in the current edition of International Higher Education.